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Dental Diagnostic and Preventive Care Procedures Have Increased Since 1987

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Quick Stats from AHRQ: February 11, 2002

According to the most recent published data, Americans now are more likely to see a dentist to get their teeth examined and cleaned than they are to get them filled or removed. Sixty-five percent of all procedures reported in 1996 were described as either diagnostic (exams and x-rays) or preventive (cleanings, fluoride and sealants), up from 56 percent in 1987. However, these numbers are lower for poorer, less educated, or black and Hispanic Americans. These findings were from a comparison of data from the 1996 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) and the 1987 National Medical Expenditure Survey (NMES), both from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). The nationally representative surveys collected data on the civilian non-institutionalized population of the United States.

Specific data include:

  • During 1996, approximately 115 million Americans made at least one visit to a dentist, and approximately 422 million dental procedures were performed.
  • Diagnostic procedures increased from 25.9 percent of all procedures in 1987 to 35.2 percent in 1996.
  • The numbers of restorative, prosthetic, surgical and endodontic procedures (including fillings, crowns, bridges, dentures) all declined between 1987 and 1996.
  • In 1996, black, Hispanic, or poorer respondents reported relatively fewer preventive visits and more oral surgery visits than whites, or respondents with more income.

Details can be found in "Dental Services: An Analysis of Visits, Procedures and Providers, 1996," by Richard J. Manski, D.D.S., M.B.A., Ph.D., and John F. Moeller, Ph.D., both with AHRQ. The article is published in the February 2002 issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association.

For more information, please contact AHRQ Public Affairs, (301) 427-1364: Karen Carp, 301-427-1858 (


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